Cultural Playing Field

Culture and Wellbeing by Robin Simpson
December 13, 2013, 4:13 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,

On Wednesday evening I was at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster to attend a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics. This session focussed on Culture and Wellbeing with guest speakers from the museums and theatre sectors, the London School of Economics, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England. Alan Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, described the work ACE is doing to develop a holistic case for investment in culture. He said they are looking at the immediate effects of cultural activity on individual citizens, the economic effects and the social effects, including wellbeing. Alan said he thought culture does have a part to play in wellbeing and this could lever in funding from other sources but he was less convinced about using wellbeing measures to help to decide the destination of cultural funding which he stressed was a complex process.

The final speaker was Dr David O’Brien from City University London (who sits on the AHRC Cultural Value Project Steering Group with me). He noted the wide range of uses of the term ‘wellbeing’ by the previous speakers. He suggested that wellbeing has an ‘apple pie quality’ – no-one wants to decrease it. We need to be careful about the definition of wellbeing. David suggested that being healthy and being employed are the key drivers of wellbeing and everything else is peripheral. He wondered whether having wellbeing as a policy agenda would merely result in the improved wellbeing of people who already have high wellbeing.

The Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics, former Arts Minister David Lammy, then invited the Shadow Culture Minister, Helen Goodman, and another former Arts Minister, Lord Howarth, to comment on the speakers. Helen Goodman said she understood that health and employment are the really big factors, but those things are intractable and difficult so she asked whether there are any quick wins from culture on wellbeing. Alan Howarth said he was hugely enthusiastic about the elevation of the concept of national wellbeing as a policy goal. He thought it was a statement of resounding banality that the arts promote well-being – of course they do – but it is hard to ascribe monetary values to emotional states. Lord Howarth thought the new Health and Wellbeing Boards ought to present an opportunity for the cultural sector as they would have significant funding.

Robin Simpson.

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